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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Blips of Transient Pessimism

Which came first—a text affirming eternal life or the intimations of it? Many religions affirm eternal life in one way or another, so I take this as rather clear indication that it is common for mankind to actually feel intimations of it—for if man’s experience did not jive with his religion, in the end religion would give way to experience. In other words, say someone writes that God is Hate and backs it up from quoting scripture verses here and there indicating a cruel and hateful God; would I change my belief that God is Love?—Not a bit, for my experience over time is that God is Love. Another way of seeing this is to envision a graph of my experience. Inevitably there will periods of doubt and dismay, but the trend line is unmistakably clear—my faith continues to have solid growth. Therefore it is always dangerous to extrapolate from a blip of transient pessimism.

I especially appreciated today's reading in Jimmy Carter’s Through the Year with Jimmy Carter (page 356). In it he describes the endurance of Jim Stockdale while a captive in Vietnam. Some prisoners survived, others did not. “[Those] men would build up expectations for a prompt release—before Christmas or before Easter or before some other date—and every time those days came and went without bringing freedom, they despaired. The dreary cycle made them increasing despondent until finally they gave up and died.

Jim considered this imprisonment to be long-term and yet retained undeviating confidence in himself, his nation, and his faith. He avoided repeated heartbreak.” He avoided, in other words, “transient optimism”.

I think most of us appreciate the necessity of a long-term perspective for survival and eventual victory, and we find it deeply reassuring when we find it in ourselves or others.

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